Flexibility Required for Marlborough’s 2022 Vintage

Marlborough Wine Harvest (Richard Briggs Photography)
Marlborough Wine Harvest (Richard Briggs Photography)

Marlborough’s 2022 vintage was edge-of-your-seat stuff, with higher yields, turbulent weather and the unprecedented pandemic challenges, according to Sophie Parker-Thomson, Master of Wine (WM). It required a change in mindset from industry, following three consecutive years of drought and light crops the year before.

“There has been a temptation to replenish the empty pipelines with the bountiful yields - principally Sauvignon Blanc,” said Parker-Thomson, who owns and runs Blank Canvas Wines with her husband, Matt Thomson.

Producers had to be meticulous in balancing that against the processing capacity of their wineries, a widespread shortage of labour, an Omicron impacted workforce, and the dynamics of ripening crops in La Niña weather conditions.

According to Plant & Food Research Weather expert Rob Agnew, timing was everything for the vintage. Malborough grape growers dodged a bullet, but not entirely. In December, rainfall coincided with flowering, leading to latent botrytis infection that awakened in February, impacting early Sauvignon Blanc going through véraison and ripening in grapes.

A subsequent dry spell from 20 February to 20 March was a huge blessing that mitigated the impact. “If it had continued to be wet over those four weeks, it would have been very ugly,” said Agnew. 

A warm October, November and December meant a good fruit set, with berry numbers per bunch well above average and high berry weight. However, a cold and wet February hampered the ripening period, explained Simon Waghorn, Winemaker and owner of Astrolabe. 

“We started with many potential issues, particularly with Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, but the later finer weather kept that in check and meant we could get our fruit to the ripeness levels we were hoping for.”

Jamie Marfell, Winemaker at Pernod Ricard Winemakers Group, shared that their yields were significantly up on the long-term average, putting the company back in balance after the light 2021 harvest. They had an early start, partly due to the looming threat of Covid-19. “We were very wary of the risk of losing a lot of staff,” said Marfell. So, the group contracted three crews for sparkling wine hand harvest to minimise the risk instead of the typical two.

By mid-March, Omicron began impacting staff numbers. Flexibility became integral to daily workforce decisions, such as closing a shift or slowing machine harvest and grape intake to ensure fruit fermented within 48 hours in pristine condition. 

“Despite all the Covid and climate challenges of the season, there are some pretty good stonking wines,” said Marfell.

Fellow board member and Winemaker at Hunter’s Wines James Macdonald agreed that flexibility was vital to this season’s harvest. According to Macdonald, the Waihopai Valley subregion was a good performer, with later ripening blocks that benefited from stunning late harvest weather. The Awatere Valley was also found to have provided good yields and flavours.

Wine Marlborough General Manager Marcus Pickens revealed that it had been a year of challenges, with supply pressures, labour shortages and global shipping issues causing great stress. “While these things look set to continue to disrupt us, there’s a lot of relief that we successfully navigated vintage 2022.”